Is Mainstream Media Confused About Bisexuality?

By Alice Ryder

The media’s portrayal of female sexuality has always left much to be desired. However, recently, there has been a specific focus and — on the part of the media — confusion, over fluid (and sometimes very clearly stated) sexualities of female celebrities.

There have been constant examples of this. The media downplayed Kristen Stewart’s relationships with women by calling them her ‘gal pals’. They named Abby Wambach’s wife her ‘friend’ alongside a picture of them kissing after Wambach won the Women’s World Cup. Amber Heard was labelled as an ex-lesbian upon her marriage to Johnny Depp resulting in her having to come out publically as bisexual yet again. Vogue reporter Rob Haskell implied that not only is Cara Delevingne’s bisexuality a phase, but that her relationships with women are also due to her having a difficult childhood dealing with her mother’s heroin addiction.

This is not an unusual opinion to have. Many people — both straight and within the LGBTQ+ community — have the opinion that bisexuals are attracted to two or more genders due to something awful that happened to them in their past, leaving them confused, greedy, promiscuous or all of the above. Even more people assume that bisexuality is a pit-stop they will leave behind on the way to being ‘fully gay’ — whatever that means. These are all harmful stereotypes that continually force bisexual and queer people back into the closet.

The problem is that the media is not interested in the romantic side of these relationships. They don’t care about the fact that this person fills a space in the female celebrities’ lives and that they ultimately love them for who they are, not the gender they are. Instead these reporters are reducing the relationships to either a sexual component (Who is the man in the relationship?, Do you miss sleeping with men?, How many other men and women have you slept with?) or some kind of pathology that will eventually be fixed by… you’ve guessed it, a man, when he tames their wild side or helps her solve the mental torment of whatever happened in her youth.

These patterns are also repeated in TV and film plotlines, where the bisexual character* is shown to be dangerous, malicious, a cheater and usually an all-round bad person, before her early exit into heterosexuality or untimely death.

[* This is if that word is ever used — which 99% of the time it isn’t — instead we might see that they dated a male character and then have some love affair/sex scene with a female character.]

There is a simultaneous fear and morbid curiosity when it comes to female sexuality and the media cannot decide if it is going to refer to every same sex-partner as a ‘gal pal’, erasing the lesbian and bisexual relationships, or become inappropriately involved in their sexual and romantic workings. Needless to say, either way, they aren’t doing it right. The question really needs to be asked: why do we feel the need to report on these things in the first place? And why, when they have been told multiple times, do they continue to get the identities of these women wrong, writing offensive, erasing and degrading articles instead?

One thing that is ultimately confusing for them is that bisexual identities are vast, and unsurprisingly not the same from one person to the next, with relationships involving multiple gender identities or some people having preferences in the gender of the people they date. It will not be easy to apply broad, sweeping generalisations on bisexual people, as often happens when it comes to lesbians and gay men. Big publications such as Vogue should be using this opportunity to promote alternate sexualities correctly instead of feeding into these harmful stereotypes about bisexual people.

It is these harmful stereotypes that have a lasting impact on the bisexual/queer community and the reason why bisexuals have lower mental, sexual and physical health than gay and lesbian people. Or why the statistics of rape, domestic violence and sexual assault against bisexual women are alarmingly higher than straight women or lesbians. Or why bisexual people are more likely to have low standards of sexual health due to health providers not understanding or just denying their sexuality. Or why suicide is high for bisexual people. Or why bisexual people are put into conversion camps or why ‘corrective rape’ is used against them to make them ‘pick a side’. Unfortunately, it is usually those who are most disadvantaged in the LGBTQ+ community who don’t reap the rewards from mainstream LGBT efforts.

It isn’t just the straight mainstream media that is writing damaging, biphobic articles about bisexual women. This week XO Jane posted an anonymous article written by a lesbian who has decided she is the identity police, ranting about her queer friends’ sexual activity and telling all bi women who are not out or who happen to date men, ‘fuck you’. It would be funny if it weren’t a damaging and upsetting opinion shared by a lot of the LG community.

The question we all really want answering is why do these platforms continue to post this discriminatory, biphobic content? Why aren’t there editors and blog owners who are standing up to journalists and writers who continually write misgendering, biphobic, homophobic, transphobic and generally terrible articles?

If the answer is because it fuels controversy, then that simply isn’t a good enough reason when it contributes first-hand to the violence that is inflicted on the bi community. It’s amazing that we have celebrities such as Amber Heard, Alan Cumming and Anna Paquin publically standing up for bisexual rights. But there is an essential need for the mainstream media to catch up with LGBTQ+ politics and refuse to publish biphobic, homophobic and transphobic content as well.

Does the Beach Body Exist?

By Hana Shaltout

There has been uproar recently over advertisements posted on the London Underground by the food supplement company Protein World. The image featured an athletic blonde model and asked the question: Are you beach body ready?

The response to the image has been overwhelming, and the whole fiasco can be perfectly summed up in this Buzzfeed article.

The point now is to unpack the myth of the beach body. Much like Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth, the beach body also seems to me to be a myth. Why do we keep investing in these myths? Sandra Bartky and Susan Bordo are two scholars who work with femininity and body image (make-up, eating habits and so on), and for them, these ideals are a disciplining mechanism used to make women ‘docile’ (drawing from Foucault). According to them, such discourses function to maintain the patriarchy.

On the other hand, we have more contemporary discourses of post-feminism that emphasise empowerment, loving your body, sexual agency, and consumption. Part of post-feminism is about renouncing the second-wave feminism kind of stuff and focusing instead on makeup, dress, exercise and dieting as forms of empowerment and self-expression.

The point is not about what women and men should look like; I believe that each person should be free to choose how they want to feel about their bodies and how their bodies look. Conversely, however, we still seem to read lots of articles about eating healthily, exercising for summer, and getting into that swimsuit. Why? I decided to ask some of my friends why someone would invest in having a ‘beach body’, or not. The answer that struck me the most was my friend Richa’s, she does not personally care about having a beach body but instead talked about the way we use social media. In a world where everyone is always updating, always posting, sharing and liking, people feel the need not only to be visible, but also to receive validation of what they have uploaded on the internet through social media sites.

This got me thinking about Instagram statistics and research. Many scholarly works cite Instagram as the most used photo-sharing app so far with hundreds of millions of followers. In an interesting article titled “What we Instagram: A first Analysis of Instagram Photo Content and User Types,” the authors outlined eight different categories of photos uploaded, and five different kinds of users. The eight types of pictures are: ‘friends,’ ‘food,’ ‘gadgets,’ ‘captioned photo,’ ‘pet,’ ‘activities,’ ‘selfies’ and ‘fashion’. Selfies and friends were the two most popular and most uploaded kinds of pictures. This is also not surprising as ‘Selfie’ was coined 2014 word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary (!). Visuals, pictures, and selfies are certainly having a moment.

However, this is far from saying that people consume media without contesting it. The huge backlash against Protein World shows that a lot of women – and men – are confident about how they look and refuse to conform to the ‘ideal’ set by the media. Instagram could also be read as a more democratic form of media, where the images are not dictated by fashion, beauty, and dieting conglomerates but rather about people sharing their own experiences and shaping different trends through hashtags. One example of a different kind of media is the Swimsuit for All campaign with the catchphrase: Beach Body. Not Sorry. This is obviously reminiscent of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. There are many more examples of women and men resisting messages in the media through their daily lives and choices, not to mention what they post on Instagram.

However, it is still important to remember that Instagram offers filters –ways of tweaking the world, and other programmes such as Photoshop offer other ways in which Instagram users can modify their pictures. Some scholarship has found that users of social networking sites also tend to conform to similar ideals, such as normative masculinity. It would be extremely difficult to gage the conformity levels of users on Instragram (this discussion could be a full dissertation!). In my personal opinion, people have realised the unrealistic images that used to be in the media, and have come up with their own or have found other ways of responding to it.

So: does a beach body exist? It certainly exists on Google. Any search with the words ‘beach body’ will tell you that many magazines, books, blogs, news outlets have tips, tricks, exercises and diets for it. Yet judging from the backlash against the Protein World advertisement, people are also much more aware and vigilant about their own body image and everyday practices. The beach body exists – but maybe it is no longer what we used to think it was.